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BWW Review: THE CATASTROPHIST at City Theatre Blurs Genres and Experiments with Perception

A streaming co-production of Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre

BWW Review: THE CATASTROPHIST at City Theatre Blurs Genres and Experiments with Perception A man stands on an empty stage. Not even on an empty stage: the man stands in a black void. He speaks to us. Supertitles appear. The man sees them. It's that kind of show.

Early on in Lauren M. Gunderson's one-man show The Catastrophist, we establish that this show will break the fourth wall frequently and constantly (at one point, our protagonist gets out a pen and WRITES on the fourth wall). But this isn't a surrealist play for the most part; it's not All That Jazz or BoJack Horseman (though it nods to the former). Instead, it's simply a framework, an accepted and stylish form on which to hang the real meat of the piece: a discussion of science, faith and love, and the point where these three intersect.

Nathan Wolfe (played in this filmed production by William DeMeritt) is a virologist, an expert in pandemics and disease theory. He describes himself as a catastrophist, one who studies worst-case scenarios. His wife, Lauren M. Gunderson, is a playwright, and a successful one. It's his story but she's telling it; this is a solo show, but Lauren, the playwright (as a person as much as a creative force) is perpetually interacting with the story from the sidelines in asides only Nathan usually hears. For reasons not even Nathan apparently understands, he has a story to tell, of how his career as a virologist touched his life, the lives of his family members, and the world. It's not a play about COVID-19, but it's very much a play about COVID-19 when viewed in 2021.

William DeMeritt is a fantastic and naturalistic actor: he has the infotainment/raconteur quality one expects from a TED Talk or an educational podcaster, but the acting chops of a solo show performer. And make no mistake, this is both. It's fiction, but you will learn things on a philosophical and scientific level. It's also deeply weird, in that Gainax way that recalls Quantum Theatre's streaming production of Mike Bartlett's Wild.

Thanks to their partnerships with other cutting-edge theatres, City Theatre has remained on top of the alternative streaming and filmed theatre scene during the pandemic. Hopefully, we will be back in real seats sooner than later, but part of me will definitely miss the accessibility and possibility we have been forced to embrace during this pandemic. I'm sure the power of an actor in the same room as you would have given SOMETHING to this production that we don't have here, but I'm hard pressed to think of what. In fact, I can think of quite a few ways the filmed production may have been superior to a traditional "man in a spotlight" production. The use of technology and new media to enhance our oldest art form is just as much of an art, and The Catastrophist gets it right.

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From This Author Greg Kerestan